MANILA – An investigation on the accusations of Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago against Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile will cover several private companies operating in the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA), Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said.
De Lima issued a two-page order directing a special task force chaired by Undersecretary Jose Justiniano to look into the operations of First Cagayan License and Resort Corp., Meridien Vista Gaming Corp. and San Jose Lumber (SJL).
First Cagayan and Meridien were allegedly involved in illegal gambling, De Lima said.
First Cagayan has been operating under a “master license” issued by the Cagayan Special Economic Zone and Freeport (CSEZFP). The license allows foreign firms to operate online gambling in the economic zone for seven years, it was alleged.
CSEZFP also issued to Meridien a license “authorizing it to conduct gaming operations, including jai-alai, in the Cagayan Freeport and to set up betting stations in connection thereto,” the justice department said.
Meridien, reportedly owned by Charlie “Atong” Ang, was accused in 2009 of being a front for illegal gambling operations.
SJL, De Lima said, has allegedly been involved in illegal logging operations under a license that expired in 2007.
“The special task force is mandated to evaluate the evidence gathered and recommend possible courses of action or legal processes including, but not limited to, the filing of the appropriate criminal complaints as the evidence may warrant for purposes of the conduct of the corresponding preliminary investigation, and request for investigation by the Anti-Money Laundering Council,” the order stated.
De Lima also directed the task force to regularly report and submit their final report within three months.
De Lima had earlier created the team to look into the alleged involvement of Enrile in illegal gambling, illegal logging and illegal importation at CEZA.
CEZA is under the administration of Jose Mari Ponce, a distant relative of Enrile. The senator’s son-in-law James Kocher also runs the automobile importing operation in the free port.
De Lima also ordered the task force to look into Enrile’s assets, liabilities and net worth and “other related acts constituting criminal offenses under existing criminal statues.”
She said she saw the need to order an investigation due to the seriousness of the allegations and also upon request of Santiago.
But she said the probe will not cover allegations of alleged human rights violations committed by Enrile when he was defense minister of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos.
“It might not be feasible to look into that because (the alleged crimes) happened a long time ago and had already prescribed. And it would really be difficult to gather evidence on the charges,” she said.
On Santiago’s claim that Enrile masterminded the pork barrel scam reportedly perpetrated by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, De Lima said this case is already undergoing preliminary investigation by the Office of the Ombudsman.
In a privilege speech, Santiago linked Enrile to various crimes including smuggling, illegal logging, and gambling in CEZA, and plunder.
Enrile, who sat in front of the fuming Santiago, was seen playing a video game as Santiago was giving her speech. He was also seen laughing at times. (Philippine Star)